As we reported this week, Oakland's surveillance contractor Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) has a history of fraudulent practices, and city officials appeared to be unaware of the company’s troubled history. But the sweeping — and controversial — surveillance system that SAIC is building for Oakland isn't the only big law enforcement contract that the company has in the Bay Area. It also is in charge of training and planning efforts for a regional law enforcement endeavor called the Urban Area Security Initiative. In government acronym-speak, that's the UASI.
With the Bay Area Urban Area Security Initiative, SAIC is working for one of the biggest police collaborations in the nation. The Bay Area UASI is a super-governmental coordinating body created in 2006. The sprawling authority includes the police departments of Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose, plus twelve contiguous counties, from Sonoma in the north to Monterey in the south. Fire departments and other emergency services are also included. Nearly all the Bay Area UASI's funding comes from the Department of Homeland Security, which began pouring millions into the training effort in 2011.
The sheriff’s office’s cut of the federal grant money to coordinate the whole show comes out to $7.5 million, according to Alameda County records. For developing a training and exercise plan under the sheriff’s office’s supervision, SAIC was paid $75,000 in 2012.
In 2011, SAIC was also one of fifteen companies selected by the sheriff to split $2.3 million to provide training services to law enforcement and emergency operations staff.
"This contract will provide a pool of qualified training providers that can be used to conduct training courses," read a letter from Sheriff Ahern to the county board of supervisors. The same contract was re-upped with an additional $3.4 million in April of 2013.
So what kind of training are these federal funds, funneled through SAIC's employees, paying for?
Every year, UASI puts on a SWAT-team training competition called Urban Shield, which attracts participants from law enforcement and first responder agencies across the US and overseas. In recent years, security forces from Israel and the Kingdom of Jordan have participated in Urban Shield. The competition consists of live-action scenarios such as hostage-holding terrorists, active gunmen, bomb threats, chemical weapons attacks, and catastrophic fires.
It was at last year's Urban Shield exercise that Sheriff Ahern's staff tested an unarmed aerial drone in front of television cameras, setting off heated debate over a now-stalled plan to purchase two drones for the Alameda County Sheriff.